The Fish Story

Oh, So Close Is a Good Thing; Bad Bassing Leads to Poachers

By JAY MANN | Nov 21, 2018

The clock is ticking down, signaling the need to rush out and nab a Thanksgiving striped bass.

As I’m wonting to say prior to every holiday mealtime, whenever a nicely cooked eater-sized bass hits the tabletop spread, it gets gobbled up with relish, most often disappearing before other more famed comestibles. As Giada De Laurentiis might say, “Delish.”

At the same mealtime, you simply can’t enter clams in any palate-based race since they seldom even make it to the premeal prayer. Hell, I’ve brought huge loads of clams to holiday dinners, figuring the fine folks throwing the soiree could have any leftovers. Leftover clams? No such animal. Uncle Lou alone will see to that, as he settles in with clam knife skillfully poised, all “one for you … and two or three for me.”

Here’s hoping this year’s late-arriving schoolie bass population will round out Thanksgiving feasts … and then hang around for Christmas dinner.

I still have an unused Bonus Bass Program tag awaiting a fish between 24 and 28 inches. That hints at the number of bass I’ve been able to catch this fall. The required bonus bass scorecard lists both caught fish and skunk sessions. Mine currently looks like two pitchers with no-hitters going – nothing but zeros across the board.

By the by, an important part of the program is documenting no-fish-caught sessions. It could behoove the surfcasting neighborhood to keep official word of crappy fishing sessions. I foresee a distant day when more lenient bass regs will be applied to bank/surf/jetty fishermen, vis-à-vis Chesapeake Bay.

CONTINUAL CLOSE CALLS: I’ll need to repeat myself – though it’s a repetition worth repeating. The speed that storms have been moving through our region remains a saving grace. Last week’s sudden snow-producing system would have become brutally punishing if it had stayed in the hood for even one more day, much less the three days common to olden nor’easters. It also snowed down far beyond initial forecasts.

You gotta love the expression the weather services are now using when they underestimate/underforecast a storm. They cleverly and duly place blame on the storm, saying it “overperformed.” It leaves an impression that a storm melodramatically overplayed its role; hammed it up, as it were.

Such a term indicates the forecasting of a storm must now include the possibility of Academy Award performances. I’m guessing that a storm forecasted to drop a foot of snow but only leaving a dusting is an “underperformer.” You’ll never work Broadway again!

As is the case after every odd storm nowadays, one must wonder if it was simply common weather quirkiness or was it emblematic of wilder weather now being sparked by a skyway filled with unnatural quantities of deleterious gases and chemicals. The answer to that climate change question is simple: It’s complicated.

It takes a rather creative degree of science to differentiate between where nature ends and where manmade unnaturalness takes over. On the record, science can now graphically define many a sky convulsion as bearing the hallmarks of mankind’s planetary-scale polluting. However, the lab doors of imagination get thrown open when it comes to imaginatively equating every storm, heat/cold wave or even wildlife to atmospheric flukes caused by mankind’s sky-high meddling.

Extracting one-on-one proof of climate change in every downpour or road flood on LBI might be a whole other form of overperforming – on the part of scientists and assorted doomsdayers. Nonetheless, simply overlooking suffering skies is the ultimate in underperforming. The curative song remains the same: Start the long hard road to sky repair while staying ready for who-knows-what … storm-wise.

By the by, I’m cautiously hyping the emerging renewable energy efforts by NJ, a state that hopes to go all-natural by as early as 2030. The first volley of clean green power will likely come via wind fields, starting in the ocean southeast of Holgate. More on that soon.

BENEATH YOUR FEET: It’s mighty fine on the beach. No, not a better-in-November fineness, but the fineness of the sand granularity. It’s granularly different than in beach days past.

Before I get into this drifty beach issue, I’m not muckraking in any way. I’m fully fine with keeping the best beaches possible in place on LBI. That said, I’m out of the replenishment game, i.e. no longer fighting for or against it. I just want to herein bring up the fact there’s something a wee bit different blowing in the wind. You’ve likely seen or felt it beneath your feet.

The pumped-in replenishment sand gleaned from the ocean bottom off Harvey Cedars is ever so finely finer than that which commonly graced our sugar-sand beaches. Oh, it’s so close to the original that detecting it takes a good microscope – and the tiniest ruler you can imagine. However, the fineness shows when it blows out there. Ask the Island’s public works types, who will attest to the replen sand blowing about like crazy. Admittedly, sand has always blown about, but not to the degree that these new sands blow onto beach entrances and such. Even the shapes of windblown sand riffles and micro dunes speak of sand texture changes. In fact, the men behind the plows might use far less geological terminologies when describing what they think about the post-blow cleanups they now face, beachside.

For beach buggyists, the new sand, when stirred up through repeatedly tire passages, is sinkier than we’ve ever seen. Take that from someone who has dug out a slew of bogged-down buggies.

From a science angle, I’m duly taking into consideration the greater amount of air between the grains of fresh replenishment sand grains. But, the sinky/blowy sand syndrome is based on more than just air displacement.

Before I catch a windstorm of hell from my state- and fed-level buddies, I want to fully acknowledge that prior to any and all replenishments, rigorous tests are taken to assure any sucked-up ocean-bottom sand thoroughly meets exacting granularity size parameters, meaning a granularity range common to happy little beaches. I’m just suggesting that the gazillions of pounds of pumped-in sand on LBI is slightly finer and lighter than what we had in the good old pre-Sandy days.

As to why the sand grains just a short way out at sea might be of a remotely smaller size than what once made up our famed beaches begs hypothesizing. I’ll do the guessacious honors by theorizing that hundreds of years of serious windage and erosion have sent the finer beach sand packing – either blown seaward by winter west winds or possibly carried eastward as suspended particulates in stormy seas. At the same time, the beefier grains, though only minimally so, hold firmer to the shoreline.

So, might the lighter granularity lead to more rapid erosion? To some degree. The finer-grained pumped-in sand will surely be erosionally fast-tracked, mainly seaward and southward – or onto beach entrances. The heftier grains of sand in the pumped-in mix will hold in-place, much the way LBI’s older and beloved sugar sand was naturally sorted through. Exactly how much of the man-placed sand qualifies as beefier? That’s blowing in the wind.

BASS POACHERS RUNNING RAMPANT: I just got the latest reports from NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Bureau of Law Enforcement, showing monthly policing activities between Sept. 21 and Oct. 20. Below is a sampling of fishing-related busts.

In early September, Detective Moscatiello and CPO Woerner, acting on a tip, conducted an overnight patrol along the Manasquan River. They had been alerted to ongoing night-fishing activities of three men routinely fishing atop a famed railroad trestle over the river. They quickly got quite the investigative eyeful, spotting the men harvesting striped bass, left and right. I believe that’s a no-no in NJ – for folks of any ethnic background. After observing long and hard, the officers made their move.

Per the official report, “Two of the fishermen packed up and made their way back to their vehicle where the officers were waiting to inspect their catch. Upon inspection, the two fishermen were found to be in possession of 31 undersized striped bass.”

The third fisherman was then nabbed on the tracks. He had 15 undersized striped bass, bringing the total bust tally to 46 undersized striped bass. They were issued court-mandatory summonses for possession of undersized and over-limit striped bass.

Now, to a reality-math sandwich. What are the odds this was the first and only night of poaching for these three, i.e. how many bass had these men likely taken on previous nights – maybe previous months, even years?

But the reports have only begun.

On the morning of Oct. 13, CPOs Klitz and Woerner responded to yet another complaint. This one had to do with anglers under the Victory Bridge in Perth Amboy. “The officers quickly set up surveillance of the suspects and within a very short time were able to make their inspections. Upon inspection, the men were found to be in possession of 16 striped bass in total, all of which were undersized. Summonses for possession of undersized and over-limit striped bass were issued.”

Oh, but there’s more. A biggy bust took place in Downe Township, Cumberland County, where female CPO Shepherd surveilled a fisherman at a site famed for smaller striped bass. “She observed the individual catch and retain three undersized striped bass before she conducted an inspection. The fisherman was found to be in possession of 10 undersized striped bass, one undersized black drum, and three undersized black sea bass.” His excuse? The fisherman told the officer he thought they were all perch.

The Shephard bust soon got bigger, weirder and worse. “While walking back to her patrol vehicle to issue summonses, CPO Shepherd heard repeated scratching coming from the bed of the fisherman’s truck. Upon inspection of the buckets in the bed of the truck, she found an additional undersized striped bass and a live diamondback terrapin.” I wonder if the fisherman thought the terrapin was also a perch, you know, one with legs. Summonses were issued … as if.

Another notable bust came about when Detective Harp observed an “elderly female” – walker resting nearby – fishing from a boardwalk. “As she caught undersized tautog, she wrapped them in plastic bags and placed them in a compartment under the seat of the walking aid … “Upon inspection, she denied catching any fish, and offered her bucket for inspection before Detective Harp asked her to remove the fish from her walker.” Busted, granny.

The whole hide-a-fish scam reared up again when CPO Meyer and Detective Harp apprehended a fisherman who was seen catching undersized tautog, then slipping them into a cleverly prepared liner of his coat. “Upon inspection the fishermen denied having caught any fish, until the officers asked him to remove his coat.”

Another quickie: “On Friday, September 28, 2018, CPO Driscoll observed three fishermen along the Newark Bay in Bayonne. An inspection of the group’s catch as they left the area revealed that one of the fishermen was in possession of four undersize striped bass.”

Whenever I read these reports, I must give immense credit to the understaffed FGW/CPO officers who must cover huge areas. Still, funding for these officers is always sketchy at the state level.

I’ll now venture an educated guess that virtually all those illegal fish – along with dozens more in other busts I haven’t included – were essentially sold before they were even caught. It’s part of what amounts to an illegal, loosely-organized, catch-and-sell ring. I’ve been told that the profit margin for many of these poachers – when selling illegal striped bass and highly-prized (among Asians) tog – is so great that any fines are laughably insignificant. The punishments serve as no deterrent whatsoever. OK, so maybe there are some nasty fines leveled on certain violators but, as noted, they are minuscule in a big-picture fish-theft vein.

If you think I might be wrongly using the term “poaching” – which has more of hunting feel to it – NJDEP's definition: “POACHING is the illegal taking of wildlife, game or fish, trespassing while taking wildlife, littering or the employment of any means to gain an unfair advantage over other users of the state’s precious wildlife resources.”

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